More than four million refugees from Ukraine have crossed the Polish-Ukrainian border since the beginning of the war with Russia. The situation, expectations, and needs of this group are gradually changing. New problems are emerging, and it is time for more comprehensive assistance, ADRA Poland Foundation leaders said. The organization has been supporting refugees from Ukraine since the first day of the war.
In the beginning, a large group of refugees planned to return home quickly, but today they are more likely to think about a long-term stay in Poland. Refugees report such psychological difficulties as feelings of guilt, meaninglessness, aggression, insecurity, and the need to support their children with their own limited resources.
July 2022 has been an especially difficult month for war refugees from Ukraine due to the expiration of government aid and the tourist season. Comprehensive and specialized support is needed to help them recover from war trauma, find their way in the job market, and assimilate into Polish society, ADRA leaders said.
The ADRA Poland Foundation has been helping Ukrainian citizens affected by the war through humanitarian transports, evacuations, cash assistance, refugee shelters, and psychological assistance. The foundation runs nearly 50 shelters for refugees.
“Initially, people who were completely surprised by the war predominated,” reported Karol Templin, manager of the project, “Comprehensive Support for Refugees from Ukraine,” which the ADRA Poland Foundation organized in partnership with the charity organization CARE.
“It was not uncommon for the people we were helping to leave the house with one bag and only one set of clothes. Surprised by the events, shocked, and confused, they had had no time to plan what to do next. Our first help to such people was to provide accommodation and equipment, evacuation from Ukraine, and support at the border,” Templin explained.
A Changing Situation
As ADRA Poland organizes humanitarian transportation with in-kind aid (food, medical supplies, and hygiene products), it has transported 1,167 people from Ukraine to Poland. Earlier in July, workers successfully evacuated 41 residents of Mykolaiv, located right on the front line. After more than 1,000 kilometers traveled, the Ukrainian residents reached Rzeszow and Warsaw. Those who needed shelter found it at the ADRA Poland shelter in Warsaw. More than 2,000 people have so far benefited from shelters run by ADRA, two-thirds of whom were women (including girls) and the remainder were minors.
“Currently, people interested in long-term residency apply to our centers,” Elżbieta Krzynówek, a regional coordinator of the ADRA Poland Foundation, reported. “They have plans to find permanent, legal work and stay in our country for six months, a year or longer, their children attending educational institutions. The accommodation we offer in the shelters is to help them find work and future housing. Ultimately, they plan to rent an apartment.”
Renata Karolewska, another regional coordinator at the ADRA Poland Foundation, explained that the refugees’ perceptions of the immediate future have changed. “At first, I heard mainly, ‘The war will soon be over; I will return home in a while.’ Gradually, however, the situation has changed. Refugees establish relationships with each other and with their Polish neighbors, become part of the community, find jobs, plan to stay longer, especially if they come from areas devastated by the war and have nothing to go back to,” Karolewska said. In contrast, people from western Ukraine very often set their sights on a quick return home.
Satisfying basic needs opens up space to address other issues, Ukrainian-born psychotherapist Roksana Korulczyk explained. “In addition to the general adaptation challenges of finding oneself in a new situation, in a foreign country, and lack of language skills, each person has been individually affected by the tragedy of war, including through the death of someone close to them, separation, loss of housing or work.”
Korulczyk is one of four Ukrainian psychologists who provide psychological and informational assistance to Ukrainian refugees as part of an ADRA Poland Foundation initiative. The four of them are on duty by phone and in chat rooms, and they post expert advice online.
“Currently, we are most often approached by refugee women and refugees asking how they can find a sense of security again,” Korulczyk said. “They ask why they react to the same situations differently than before and about how to regain a sense of purpose in their lives after losing everything. They often struggle with guilt, though they don’t know where it comes from. They wonder how to manage their aggression, which is natural in their situation, and how they can help their child with ongoing difficulties and find the strength to help, when they don’t have the strength to help themselves.”
Mental health professionals often see doubts and reluctance to reach out for help. Experts said this is a result of the difficult experience at the beginning of the war and the rather common belief in Ukrainian society that psychological help is something stigmatizing and reserved for mentally ill people.
Time for integration
The ADRA Poland Foundation is also setting up integration centers for foreigners, places of comprehensive assistance with expert support in the field of psychology, legal advice, learning the Polish language, and even giving relaxing massages. Centers will be set up in, among others, Warsaw, Lublin, and Katowice. In a later phase, ADRA plans to open further centers in other parts of the country.
“Many refugees will stay longer with us,” Templin said. “This is why we need comprehensive and specialized support to help them recover from the traumas of war, training, learning the language, finding their way in the labor market, and assimilating into Polish society.”